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Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:43 pm on 3rd December 2003.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat 9:43 pm, 3rd December 2003

My Lords, I was referring to the noble Lord's commendation of British success in arms exports.

I turn to the United States. We need to be realistic about the limits of British influence over the current Republican Administration. There is in Washington intense admiration for Tony Blair, but this does not translate into British influence. Just before President Bush's state visit I read a Heritage Foundation briefing that started by saying that Britain was America's most important ally and that Tony Blair was the most important leader supporting President Bush, but then went on to say that under no circumstances should any concessions be offered to British positions during the Bush state visit.

After all, our Prime Minister's strategy over Iraq was of public support and private criticism intended to extract from the United States, first, an active American commitment to the road map for reconciliation between Israel and Palestine and, secondly, a central role for the United Nations in the reconstruction of Iraq. We have gained neither of those. There are strict limits to the special relationship. As the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, remarked, it is an intelligent relationship with mutual and reciprocal benefits on both sides and occasional mutual misrepresentation, as over the question of who did or did not buy uranium from Niger. However, that does not overcome the different drift of the American debate on foreign policy and, indeed, on values in recent years. Certainly we need to engage actively within the Washington debate and to do so as far as possible in consultation with our European partners to amplify our voice.

The excellent FCO strategy paper published yesterday notes as British priorities: an international system based on the rule of law; a greater emphasis on the real dangers of climate change—both areas in which we are now pushing in a very different direction from Washington—and a commitment to an open and expanding world economy. Protectionist forces within Congress and the US Administration are currently pushing us away from an open world economy.

I turn to NATO. We should be careful not to be left exposed as more loyal to NATO than the US Administration. Europe is no longer the centre of American global strategy. NATO is written about in Washington as a tool kit out of which to build coalitions of the willing. If that is the case, it is perfectly natural to accept that NATO is adapting and that the pursuit—as several noble Lords have said—of a transatlantic partnership of equals between the overwhelming majority of members of NATO who are also members of the EU and the United States is an entirely proper goal to pursue.

Let me say a little about relations with the Muslim world, which I am glad to see was flagged and emphasised in the FCO strategy. We are in some danger of drifting towards a clash of civilisations between the United States and the Muslim world. I was reading an article by Norman Podhoretz the other day that talks about the fourth world war, between the West and the Muslim world, in which we will have to force wholesale regime change across the entire Middle East. That is not in Britain's interests or the interests of the stability of the world. I agree with everything said by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool about the need for inter-faith dialogue, and for closer relations between Christians and Muslims for the cultivation of the moderate Muslim voice.

There are real problems of development across the Muslim world. I have just read the second Arab human development report, which is excellent, particularly as it is written by Arabic economists and intellectuals themselves. We clearly need a long-term strategy, working with and through the leaderships of Muslim countries and the 15 million Muslims who are citizens of European Union states. However, that also requires us to finish the job in Afghanistan, Iraq and, of course, Israel and Palestine.

We have heard a little today about the glimmers of hope again that, after the depressing events in Israel and Palestine in the past few months, some on both sides are returning to the only possible solution, which is and has to be a two-stage solution. Her Majesty's Government, in co-operation with all their partners, should push as hard as they can to get back to that route.

Lastly, let me say a little about international order. The international institutions under which we live are, after all, one of the great legacies of the United States of President Roosevelt. One thing that worries me most about the current mood in the United States is the extent to which those on the neo-conservative Right wish to tear down every aspect of the edifice that FD Roosevelt left, including international institutions and international law. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, surely it is in our interests to strengthen the United Nations. I am very glad to know that he is on Secretary-General Annan's panel, and I hope that he will keep us well informed of its progress in discussing potential reform of international institutions.

It is in our interests to maintain the World Trade Organisation talks. I welcome the latest proposals by European Commissioner Pascal Lamy to relaunch the discussions after the failures of Cancun. It is in our interests to maintain international law, whatever the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, may say. Guantanamo is still an offence against international law. I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, that Iraq has fractured international law.

We need international institutions to combat global disease. The first person to die of SARS who was a member of an international organisation was a World Health Organisation doctor who played a large role in bringing that epidemic to light. We need international institutions and co-operation against the AIDS epidemic, about which my noble friend Lady Northover spoke very eloquently. We need them to manage global migration, one of the major challenges of the next 10 years as, again, the FCO strategy rightly points out. We need them to grapple with global inequality and the corruption and civil conflicts that make inequality worse.

We are in a highly inter-dependent world in which the British Government have to share their responsibilities. The problem for British foreign policy is that we have high ambitions but very limited resources. It therefore makes sense to share so far as we can with our European partners, as part of a stronger Europe with the United States and, where we can, with others through NATO, the Commonwealth and the United Nations. That is the right direction for British foreign policy.